PREVIEW: Luton Town v Fulham

Hatters host the Cottagers at Kenilworth Road this weekend

By Mike Simmonds
Friday, 10th December 2021, 2:24 pm
Harry Cornick makes it 3-2 to Luton during their 3-3 draw against Fulham on Boxing Day 2019
Harry Cornick makes it 3-2 to Luton during their 3-3 draw against Fulham on Boxing Day 2019

As expected, there doesn't appear to be any stopping Fulham's seemingly inevitable surge back to the Premier League this term.

The Cottagers are fast becoming one of the Yo-yo clubs between both levels, the last four campaigns seeing them spend two in the top flight and two in the second tier.

After being unable to keep them up last season, manager Scott Parker, who had masterminded a play-off victory in 2020, opted to move on and join Championship rivals Bournemouth, but Fulham moved quickly to replace him, ex-Everton and Hull boss Marco Silva swiftly appointed.

Importantly, he has been able to keep the majority of the Premier League squad together and has had cash to strengthen the already enviable list of talent at his disposal too, splashing out £12m to bring in Wales international Harry Wilson from Liverpool, also purchasing Nathaniel Chalobah from Watford for £3m as well.

There were a few significant outs, Stefan Johansen and Aboubakar Kamara both leaving, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Jerome Opoku departing on loan and Maxime Le Marchand released too.

Fulham showed little signs of a relegation hangover, starting with a 1-1 draw against Middlesbrough, before the goals began to flow, Huddersfield Town hammered 5-1 at the John Smith's Stadium, striker Aleksander Mitrovic getting his first of the campaign.

That saw Fulham win five on the bounce, including knocking Birmingham out of the Carabao Cup, before they suffered a surprise defeat, going down 1-0 at Blackpool, the first time they had failed to find the net as well.

It didn't appear to matter much, Birmingham dismantled 4-1 at St Andrews, but the inconsistencies crept in, another 2-1 home loss to Reading as although the Cottagers beat Swansea 3-1, a 4-1 loss to Coventry meant the pressure was starting to mount ever so slightly, with just two victories wins from six as they sat fifth, five points off the top.

Any concerns were well and truly to bed with a 4-1 win over QPR, as Fulham went on to win seven in a row, scoring goals galore, 25 in that time, conceding just two, notching four past Nottingham Forest at the City Ground, and a magnificent seven at Ewood Park as Blackburn Rovers were put to the sword.

They were finally held to a blank at home by Derby recently, as then Preston and Bournemouth picked up 1-1 draws, making it three games without a victory for Silva's men, but still 10 unbeaten in total to lead Bournemouth by a point at the top, with a seven point advantage over third place West Bromwich Albion.

Speaking to the club's official website about the sequence of results, Silva said: “10 unbeaten games, that number is really good.

“Three different games and in that moment we had the illness which affected two games – Derby and Preston was a little bit strange.

"But it is what it is, and it’s done, no need to talk more about the situation.

“At this moment we are happy. We did what we should do last summer, as it is always tough for a club after relegation.

“Competition in the squad is tough and the squad is big as well.”

Team news: Luton attacker Harry Cornick will miss the match on Saturday due to a calf injury, while there are doubts over Cameron Jerome and Tom Lockyer as well.

Midfielder Luke Berry remains absent as manager Nathan Jones faces a choice over who plays in goal, with James Shea and Simon Sluga both fit.

For Fulham, Ivan Cavaleiro hasn't recovered from a groin injury, while summer signing Nathaniel Chalobah is out with a calf injury.

Wing-back Antonee Robinson is available after missing last Friday’s draw with Bournemouth due to illness.

Top scorers - Hatters: Elijah Adebayo (9). Cottagers: Aleksander Mitrovic (21).

Man in the middle: Thomas Bramall – has taken 17 games this season from the Championship to League Two, brandishing 55 yellow cards and two reds.

Took one Town match last season, the 1-0 win at Preston North End, while both his other Luton fixtures have been 1-0 victories, an FA Cup triumph at Bury in December 2018 and then a 1-0 League One win at Southend in January 2019.

Referee's assistants are Adrian Waters and Mark Pottage, with the fourth official David Rock.

In charge: Marco Silva - 44-year-old played for a number of clubs in his home country of Portugal during his playing career, including CF Os Belenenses, CD Trofense, Rio Ave FC, SC Braga B, SC Salgueiros, Odivelas FC and GD Estoril Praia, retiring in January 2011.

He was immediately appointed director of football at Estoril, although quickly replaced Vinícius Eutrópio as manager, leading the club back to the top flight, named the league's Manager of the Year.

Left his position in May, 2014, as he was appointed Sporting CP boss, winning the Taça de Portugal a year later by beating SC Braga, leaving the club four days later, dismissed for not wearing his official suit in a cup match.

A month later, Silva was back in employment, named Olympiacos manager, as his side broke the record of 11 consecutive league wins from the first matchday, also beating Arsenal in the Champions League group phase, as he managed 17 in total.

Led the team to the Greek title, but left in June 2016 for personal reasons and was out of work for six months, until coming to England, named head coach of Hull City in January 2017.

Couldn't keep the Tigers in the Premier League though, resigning in May 2017, moving to Watford just a few days later.

Was sacked in January 2018 and then went to Everton as manager in May of that year, dismissed in December 2019 with the Toffees in 18th place.

Had to wait to get back in again though, as he was unveiled as Fulham boss on a three year deal in July.

View from the opposition: Boss Marco Silva talking to the club's official website: “The way they play, they will try to put us in some moments to play the way we don’t like to play, but of course when we have the ball we have to be Fulham Football Club.

“We have to play in our way to create the chances we want to create.

"If you are strong in one way, you have to take the game from this side, if you can.

"That will make the difference, if we can play our game, impose our game and make an impact.

“Of course when you don’t have the ball and they win the ball, you have to know the way they’ll try to surprise us and punish us in some moments.

“We have to be aware of the situation. We have time to talk about them a little bit more with our players, but they already know what we will be up against in the game.

“Of course, our target is to go and get the three points, definitely.

"Against a tough side, I have to tell you, with a specific type of play that creates problems for their opponent.

“They fight for the first ball, fight for the second. It can be a direct game if they win the second ball.

“It’s a game for us to be switched on for every single minute, and after that we have to put quality on our game.

"Because if not, if we cannot take the game the way we like to play, the game will be like a gamble game, and we don’t like to play these type of games.

“We have to deal with it, we have to be Fulham Football Club, even if it’s tough, all the situations they create, we have to be ourselves to win the football match."

Managerial record: Nathan Jones has managed twice against Fulham, with two wins out of two.

His first was a 2-0 victory at Craven Cottage when Brighton caretaker manager in December 2014, also leading Stoke to a 2-0 victory at the Bet 365 Stadium in October 2019.

One to watch: Aleksander Mitrovic – it can't really be anybody else but the Serbian striker who is absolutely lethal at Championship level.

Began his career in his home country with FK Teleoptik and Partizan, then heading to Anderlecht for £4m in August 2013, having two prolific seasons for the Belgian club.

Moved to the Premier League and Newcastle in July 2015 for a fee of £14.5m, scoring 14 league goals in 65 games.

Went to Fulham on loan in January 2018, netting 12 in 17 matches in the Championship and then signed for £22m as the Cottagers won promotion to the Premier League.

Remained at Craven Cottage ever since, scoring 74 goals in 149 outing, including 21 already this season, with two hat-tricks.

Serbian international too, with an impressive 44 goals from 69 encounters.

Friendly faces: Town striker Elijah Adebayo came through the ranks at Fulham, joining at U9 level, spending loan spells with Slough Town, Bognor Regis Town, Cheltenham Town, Swindon Town and Stevenage during his time at Craven Cottage.

Scored twice in three Checkatrade Trophy games for the Cottagers, but was released at the end 2018-19 season without making a first team appearance.

Headed to Walsall in June 2019, joining Luton in January of this year for an undisclosed fee, and has scored 14 goals so far.

Luton's head of scouting operations Phil Chapple had a spell at Fulham where he worked as chief scout.

For the visitors, defender Alfie Mawson played 45 minutes on loan for the Hatters from Brentford, the first half of a 5-0 win at Alfreton in December 2013, after joining on loan from Brentford.

He had further loans at Welling, Wycombe and then moved to Barnsley in June 2015.

A 5m move to Swansea followed in August 2016, before Fulham shelled out £20m for him in August 2018.

Loaned to Bristol City last term, as he has played eight times for Fulham this season, the last in the 1-0 win at Peterborough on November 6, as he has made 52 appearances in total for the Cottagers so far.

Played for both: Cauley Woodrow – came through the ranks at Luton, playing three times in the FA Trophy, making his debut aged just 16 and was capped at England U17 level.

Fulham swooped to sign him in March 2011, as he stayed at Craven Cottage for eight years, scoring 12 goals in 66 games.

Had loans at Southend, Burton, Bristol City and then Barnsley in August 2018, making the move to the Tykes permanent in July 2019, where he has 52 goals in 147 games so far.

We've got form: Luton have got an impressive record against Fulham in matches at Kenilworth Road that started with an FA Cup match in 1902 as they won 5-1, thanks to Leon Gall's treble.

The first Southern League match finished goalless as Town's opening triumph at that level was a 6-0 victory in 1905, although the Cottagers did get their revenge in the FA Cup with an 8-3 win at Kenilworth Road in 1908.

Another cup match saw Town win 4-1 in 1928, before Football League matches started the following year, Luton enjoying a 5-0 success in 1930.

The Hatters put together a nine game unbeaten run from 1953-1976 with seven triumphs, until a 2-0 defeat ended that sequence.

That made it just one loss in 14 matches, but recently Fulham have had the upper hand, going five unbeaten, three wins and two draws.

In total, the Hatters have won 19, drawn five and lost 11 from their 35 clashes, scoring 69 goals and conceding 47.

Last time out: Luton conceded a late equaliser as they were held to a dramatic 3-3 draw at Kenilworth Road in the Championship on Boxing Day 2019.

The hosts led early on through Kazenga LuaLua, before an unmarked Bobby Decordova-Reid levelled on nine minutes.

James Collins put Town back ahead on 28 minutes, only for Aleksander Mitrovic to restore parity after 77.

Hary Cornick then looked to have sealed victory for the Hatters with six minutes to go, but Decordova-Reid equalised in stoppage time, converting when Simon Sluga could only parry a header.

Hatters: Simon Sluga, Luke Bolton, James Bree, Matty Pearson, Sonny Bradley, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Callum McManaman (Harry Cornick 65), Luke Berry, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Kazenga LuaLua (Lloyd Jones 75), James Collins.

Subs not used: Marek Stech, Alan Sheehan, Andrew Shinnie, George Moncur, Jacob Butterfield.

Referee: Dean Whitestone.

Attendance: 10,068.